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Delaware Health Law Blog

Five Years Post-Bradley

Five years ago, on September 1, 2010, one of the nine “Bradley” bills, House Bill 459, took effect in Delaware.  Among other things, this bill clarified the obligations of hospitals to report any disciplinary action affecting a physician’s privileges, the obligations of law enforcement to report unprofessional conduct by a physician, and that a physician’s failure to report unprofessional conduct of another physician is itself unprofessional conduct.  Subsequent legislation incorporated “failure to report” into the definition of “unprofessional conduct” applicable to other health care professionals as well.

The Delaware Division of Professional Regulation’s website includes links to lists of physicians and nurses who have been publicly disciplined.  The physician list dates back to 1963, the nurse list back to 1990.  As one might expect, the number of physicians and nurses who were disciplined by their respective professional boards increased dramatically beginning in 2010.  With respect to physicians, prior to 2010 the highest number of physicians disciplined by what was then the Board of Medical Practice was 10 physicians in 2008.  Of the ten physicians disciplined that year, two of them had their licenses revoked.  In 2010, 15 physicians were disciplined, and while no licenses were revoked in 2010, 12 physicians received some type of suspension, including six emergency temporary suspensions.  According the DPR’s list, from 1963 through 2009, a total of only 11 physicians (including Earl Bradley) had their licenses suspended (although 24 licenses were revoked during the same time period, with the highest number of revocations being 4 in 2007).  Below are figures for physician disciplinary actions for the period from 2011 to the present (the DPR last updated the physician list on August 25, 2015):

Year Physicians Disciplined Suspensions Revocations
2011 22 7 1
2012 23 5 2
2013 35 6 3
2014 34 3 4
2015 17 (to date) 1 2

As illustrated above, in 2011 and 2012, the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline sanctioned double the number of physicians it had disciplined during its former peak year of 2008, and three times as many physicians in 2013 and 2014 as it had in 2008.  While the number of suspensions increased more or less proportionately (the 12 suspensions imposed in 2010 being somewhat of an aberration), the number of revocations did not.  Thus the figures indicate that while more violations of the physician licensing statute and regulations are being reported and investigated, there has not been a concomitant increase in violations that merit the most serious sanction of revocation

The list of publicly disciplined nurses also shows a jump in the numbers beginning in 2010.  Prior to 2010, the highest number of nurses publicly disciplined in a given year was 43 in 2005, with the Board of Nursing suspending seven and revoking two licenses.  After 2005, the number of disciplinary actions declined steadily to 14 in 2009, when the Board revoked one license and suspended one license.  In 2010, the Board disciplined about two and a half times as many nurses as it had in 2009, suspending 16 of them and revoking 6 licenses.  The figures for the period from 2010 to the present are as follows (the DPR last updated the nurse list on August 17, 2015):

Year Nurses Disciplined Suspensions [1] Revocations
2010 39 16 6
2011 47 13 4
2012 68 14 4
2013 83 42 3
2014 68 26 0
2015 69 (to date) 17 0

While the Board of Nursing had imposed at least one suspension every year from 1990 through 2009, the number of suspensions in proportion to the total number of disciplinary actions in a given year was generally less than a third.  In 2009, however, over 40 percent of the sanctions imposed were suspensions, and half the sanctions imposed in 2013 were suspensions.  As with physicians, however, the number of revocations did not increase proportionately to the number of disciplinary actions.

The tables above demonstrate that since the Bradley legislation was enacted, the total number of disciplinary sanctions imposed on physicians and nurses was the highest in 2013 (thus far).  It remains to be seen whether the numbers will level off or decline in the coming years.

[1] “Temporary suspensions” and “Stayed suspensions” are not included in the below figures.

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